ABOVE: Councilman Barry Grodenchik joins other city and elected officials in celebrating the first phase of the resurfacing of the Vanderbilt Long Island Motor Parkway. (Photo: Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)
BY BARRY GRODENCHIK
When I was young, I never imagined that I would be an elected official, but I have had the privilege of serving in the Assembly and, for the last six years, in the City Council.
When I ran for office in 2015, I met residents who informed me of everyday quality-of-life issues facing the residents of eastern Queens, and during my time in office those same issues have constantly occupied my attention. I am proud of my record of nearly perfect attendance at committee and stated meetings, but I am even prouder of the improvements in the local community that my advocacy has brought over the past six years.
Eastern Queens has long been comprised of clean, safe, beautiful neighborhoods, and my team and I have strived to make them even better. For decades, new residents have flocked to eastern Queens for our outstanding public schools, but our schools became a victim of their own success, leading to overcrowding.
Working with the School Construction Authority (SCA), I proposed locations where existing school buildings could expand, unused facilities could be repurposed, and new schools could open. At Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, which was built for about 2,500 students but at times has 4,000 students enrolled, a new wing is under construction that will add 800 seats.
An extension to PS 46 will add 440 seats, and a planned addition to PS 26 will provide 460 seats. And SCA converted two former Roman Catholic schools into public schools. Saint Robert Bellarmine in Bayside Hills became PS 390 and Our Lady of Lourdes in Queens Village is now a prekindergarten center.
The former site of the Merrick Academy became a prekindergarten center as well, allowing three- and four-year-old children to receive a high-quality early childhood education without traveling across the borough.
PS 221 used to have a simple piece of asphalt for a schoolyard, but through a partnership with the Trust for Public Land, I helped bring the school a brand-new, state-of-the-art recreational space.
During my time in the City Council, I visited every school in the district at least once every school year and provided capital funding. The school principals let me know what their needs were, and most requested funds for technology, including tablets, laptops, desktops, and interactive whiteboards. Other schools spent their capital dollars on upgrades to the gym or auditorium or air conditioning for those spaces.
The district that I represented includes Cunningham Park and part of Alley Pond Park, two of Queens’s premier parks. But even in the most beautiful parks, playgrounds need periodic refurbishment.
In conjunction with former Borough President Melinda Katz and current Borough President Donovan Richards, Redwood Playground and Glen Oaks Oval have been updated, Challenge Playground is undergoing renovation, Bellerose Playground is nearly complete, and the first section of the resurfaced Vanderbilt Long Island Motor Parkway officially opens this month.
The rest of the historic walking and bicycling path will be upgraded as well, as the mayor fully funded the project at my request. All told, a dozen parks and school playgrounds are either completed or will be finished within the next few years.
Eastern Queens is also home to one of the top cultural destinations in the borough: Queens County Farm Museum. Though it welcomes over 400,000 visitors a year, including school children from across the city, the farm does not have a place for students to go on a rainy or snowy day.
I have secured $25 million for an education center so that the children and families who visit the farm – one of the longest continually farmed sites in the state, which produces fresh, organic food for hungry New Yorkers – will have a place to learn, no matter the weather.
Over the past six years, my staff and I have handled 7,000 constituent cases, distributed thousands of bicycle helmets, successfully advocated for the resurfacing of Braddock Avenue (formerly known as the worst street in Queens), accommodated new bicycle lanes, significantly increased funding for emergency food, convinced the city to cancel plans for an ill-advised colocation at IS 109, and supported the rehabilitation of Martin Van Buren High School, whose graduation rate has gone from 45 to nearly 90 percent since 2015.
My incredible mentors – Nettie Mayersohn and Claire Shulman – taught me that government is about serving the public. From them, I learned to prioritize making headway over making headlines. The improvements on which I have been privileged to work are the legacy of my three decades in and around government, and I am grateful to the residents of Queens who gave me the high honor of serving.